Patrick Standen is no stranger to sailing. The 53 year-old St. Michael’s College professor has won regattas “from Miami to Montreal,” competed at the national level and was a certified sailing coach.
While Standen may not be the only Vermonter with these skills and accolades, he was the first paraplegic sailor to earn the Level 2 coach certification. Standen has used a wheelchair for 37 years, since an automobile accident on a rural Vermont road left him with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the waist down.
“If a person has a disability later in life they may think, ‘I’ll never be able to do certain things,’” he said. “Then when they find they can do those things, the excitement they encounter fulfills them.”
This prompted Standen to co-found the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association, a non-profit organization that helps disabled persons participate in competitive recreational activities, as well as lend his sailing skills to create an adaptive sailing program on Malletts Bay.
The program started in 2006 at The Moorings marina in Colchester. With the help of a $15,000 Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation grant, Standen and the team at the NDAA purchased a Martin 16 sailboat.
The Canadian-built, 16-foot, 330-pound boats have keels that rise four feet above the water.
“The potential for the boat really going over on its side because of the wind is really slim, but it would right itself pretty quickly,” according to Peter Hogg, a volunteer and supervisor of sailing activities with the NDAA.
According to Hogg, the boats can be outfitted with electronics to help disabled sailors. For people with quadriplegia, the Martin 16 can be equipped with a sip-and-puff joystick, or basically two straws: one that controls the sail and the other that controls the rudder.
“It’s neat to see,” he said. “It’s an enthusiasm for something [NDAA participants] can do … on their own.”
For Steven Safford, a disabled Navy veteran, the program offers independence and an opportunity to boost his confidence.
“I just like the peace and serenity,” he said. “I need the confidence of doing different things.”
In 1976, Safford had an accident in Point Sur, Calif. while serving in the Navy.
“I rolled a car over: concussion, fractured skull, paralyzed half of my face and tore my knee cap off. I was pretty banged up,” he said.
The lasting effects include a traumatic brain injury, anxiety, depression and three knee replacements. The bone in Safford’s ear that helps with equilibrium was also broken, which is why Hogg and other NDAA volunteers have to aid Safford in and out of the vessel.
“I can hardly walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “It’s stupid.”
Out on the water, it’s another story. Safford controls the boat and feels peace, he said. He’s building his self-esteem through sailing and hopes to compete in a regatta in the future. For now, he goes out sailing as many times per week as the NDAA can take him.
“I’m finally learning what’s good for me and I’m able to do it,” he said. “It’s a good thing to feel good about yourself.”
Standen said partaking in sports after a disability is a “riveting experience where people can return back to life and find that life is worth living again.”
The NDAA adaptive sailing program has more than a dozen volunteers for practices and twice as many for regattas, according to Standen. Its services are offered at no cost to participants.
“We squeak by,” Hogg said. “We’ve thought of putting in some kind of a fee, but have just kept it at, ‘If you can afford to do something please do.’”
Standen said the NDAA wants to give access to all and hopes participants fall in love with the sport. The organization raises funds through grants, donations and its annual regatta in Malletts Bay.
Looking out at the bay where Safford had just glided and tacked the Martin 16, Hogg smiled.
“This program gave me another purpose,” he said.
To learn more about the NDAA’s activities and volunteer opportunities check out their website, call 802-862-NDAA or follow the organization on Facebook @disabledathletics.